Fighting Fat With Muaythai
Muaythai is to Thailand what pencak silat is to Indonesia, a martial art that has become a national sport.
Nowadays, Muaythai, which resembles western boxing combined with knee and leg kicks and elbows, has also found a following among fitness fanatics eager to gain strength and flexibility, and lose weight.
Stephan Fox, general secretary of the International Federation of Muaythai Amateurs (IFMA) and the vice president of the World Muaythai Council (WMC), was recently in Jakarta to promote the sport in Indonesia and introduce it as a workout program. In collaboration with Fitness First, Fox held workshops and seminars for more than 250 fitness instructors and personal trainers, who are now able to teach Muaythai classes.
Muaythai’s roots can be traced back to the combat styles of Siamese soldiers, before it became a sport where matches were fought in front of an audience.
Fox jokingly said that he first became interested in martial arts because of his height. “It was the ‘small man syndrome.’ I tried many martial arts when I was young. I did karate, judo, boxing and kung fu,” he said.
“I was also a very good boxer, and I traveled to Thailand when I was 18 years old,” Fox said. “I started training in Muaythai, and was quickly put in the ring where this midget threw me from one corner to another, and I thought, ‘Hold on, maybe I’m not that good.’ ”
That’s when he decided to dedicate more time to Muaythai. Over the years, Fox won several competitive titles, and has been the Australian, South Pacific, Intercontinental and world champion. In 1995, Fox retired, and has since worked as a Muaythai trainer and representative of the sport.
“I like Muaythai because it combines many different things, and is also a cultural art form,” he said. “It is very traditional, and respect means a lot in Muaythai.”
Fox explained that in Muaythai, you have to show respect to mentors, teachers and elders, but at the same time, you are always ready for a challenge.
“I think that reflects life in general,” he said. “In business, we have to have respect for our competitors, but you’re ready to take them on at any given time, in a fair way, to win a battle in the market. And as a fitness workout, there’s nothing better.”
The techniques of Muaythai were created to use one’s own body as a weapon: The shins are used to block an attack, while the feet are used like the tip of a sword. And raised arms shield off an attacker and protect the body.
With Muaythai’s growing popularity in other countries, the sport doesn’t “belong” just to Thailand anymore, Fox said. “The Western world has really caught up,” he said, adding that athletes from Russia, France and other countries have snatched titles and championships from Thai fighters in recent years.
“The Westerners train differently. They have doctors, physiotherapists, nutrition specialists and psychologists, and the Thais run a little behind that,” he said. “They just realized that they have to catch up in order to stay on top of the game.”
One of the reasons that Muaythai has gained so many new followers recently is the success of the AXN shows “The Biggest Loser Asia,” in which Muaythai was incorporated into the weight-loss program, and the reality show “The Contender Asia,” which chronicled 16 muay Thai fighters from different countries battling each other in matches. Since the “The Contender Asia” appeared in 2008, the interest in the sport has risen.
To guarantee maximum success in a Muaythai fitness program, Fox recommends a one-on-one workout rather than group exercise.
“Let’s say you run on the treadmill, your mind will probably still be occupied with your everyday problems,” he said. “But when you train Muaythai one-on-one, there is no time for that because for 45 minutes, you completely belong to your trainer. In between rounds, you may only have one minute of recovery. You also exercise your mind because you must follow the commands of your instructor. So you burn many calories not only because you are exercising, but also because you are so focused. There is not one second in that 45 minutes where you have time to think about anything else besides your training.”
While Fox is promoting Muaythai as an exercise program, his ultimate goal is for the sport to become a part of the Olympics. “But I think we still have to go a long way,” he said.
Tips to Add Kick to Your Fitness Program
Nano Oerip, a fitness experts from Fitness First Indonesia, shares some tips on how to lose weight by incorporating Muaythai techniques into your exercise routine:
1. Perform 10 minutes of aerobic exercise, like brisk walking, five days a week. This will build a solid foundation for aerobic fitness.
2. Follow a healthy and nutritious diet to make sure that your body has the energy it needs before, during and after training.
3. Incorporate Muaythai techniques into your cardio sessions up to five times a week. Shadow boxing is an important part of learning Muaythai, and builds a good foundation before pursuing more advanced skills. Add push-ups, body squats, core exercises, jogging and jumping rope in between to add variety and increase the intensity of the training.
4. Rest and recovery is an integral part to the process of losing weight.
Additional tips and warnings: It takes a caloric deficit of 3,500 calories to lose one kilogram of fat. Boxing as cardio exercise burns approximately 735 to 838 calories per hour. Even general aerobic exercise burns 531 to 605 calories per hour, while intense training burns up to 1,200 calories per hour, according to the World Muaythai Council. These numbers, however, will vary per person according to their weight.